Sunday, February 05, 2012

Redux - how to produce affective, immersive stories.

Speakers point of view at Newsrewired

Former broadcast journalist, turned academic, Doctoral student and trainer David Dunkley Gyimah on Affective Reportage

Last Friday I presented at Newswire, where I attempted to explain an unveiling manner of engaging storytelling that used subconsciously or otherwise information as an affective aesthetic artifact.

It can become 'Integrated News [c]inema which you could called 'Vinema' - a hybrid source horrible word. I use this [c] term because of how ideologically loaded cinema as a word has become.

BBC Reportage from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.
I played this clip from BBC Reportage circa 1992, which I worked on at the time, and compared it to something else. Here I'm using the trailer from Tahrir Memento, which I made last year.

The production modes might look remarkably similar, even though they are almost 20 years apart. However there are huge differences, which you may not notice. The obvious in (i) it's a team effort of around 8 people. In (ii) it's just me.

The differences become more acute when you compare me here reporting for London Tonight. However these aren't necessarily new points.

But all of a sudden my method of explaining change can be delineated through the programmes I have worked on over the 20 years. It's a process called Phenomenology

Aesthetic in this context refers to the look and feel, whilst [c]inema is how configured shots and narrative give over to a physical form of film making that uses technique, process, and style to affect us.

News experts may argue it's always been there.

It's called getting "close to the story",  or "good solid journalism",  but I would argue it's been a challenge to create as late and, that is "getting close", because it's dependent on a number of esoteric variables which I'm writing up in my PhD.

The more generic reasons include: zealous control of media and pictures by story sources, our own self-censoring, how reporting has often slid into get-it-out-quick churnalism and the lack of meaningful thought given to constructing a report.

Getting close to a story is the hallmark of great journalism (re: Murrows et al),  but an Integrated [c]inema is a contemporary quality - a 21t century ideation that collapses a host of form and aesthetic platforms.

And I don't proclaim to own it. Other than claim that it's happening, and is growing.  The goal posts are being inexorably moved, but so imperceptibly as not to be noticed.

And whilst getting close to a story has a cinematic effect, it does not make Integrated [c]inema. The  sustained semiotic we, as news viewers* have become accustomed to means there's a way in which we differentiate news from cinema-like pictures, which I tried to get across in my Pecha Kucha.

Again, the idea of getting close physically and metaphorically comes with problems. Say you've been told there are gunmen or snipers nearby. You'd much prefer to be 400 metres way than 100 metres. It's human instinct. Good reportage though depends on you getting close, seeking out trouble, but ill-defined lines of conflict do not make give you that blanket safety zone anymore. The risks you weigh up now are more heightened. The society you once knew has changed.

David reporting from South Africa in BBC Ariel 1992
If you'll allow me this slight deviation and personal story. I was always amazed how close Soweto was to Johannesburg when I freelanced as a reporter in South Africa during the 1992-94 conflicted transition from Apartheid to democratic state.

Residents in Sandton, an affluent surburb, could virtually live in peace, while thirty odd minutes away in the townships there were massacres. So to report we (reporters) had to search out trouble.

Oh and less I forget, the term [c]inema requires all sorts of unpacking and then describing what sort of cinema you're employing, which I do in my thesis, so I can only touch the void in this post.

I aim to give a master class in this soon.

So, to BBC Correspondent Paul Wood's report with his Cameraman Fred Scott in Homs, Syria.

The team are risking their lives to bring us this report. I have picked up a segment to deconstruct. Woods has announced they've been smuggled in by forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

 A metonyn of war - the shattered glass. It's how close up the lens is to the shards that tells us this is a dangerous area. Side shots equals snipers. And then the pan, to the next shot.

A deserted street. the grey cubic architecture, space... Cinema.

Importantly, this cinematic shot has been found. The team could easily have not got into a car, or could have chosen not to film this section. The narrative has them being smuggled into a conflict zone. You could hold this shot for as long to reinforce  Wood's point.

In this PTC or stand up Wood's cameraman Scott is employing a shallow-depth-of-field. Though as a period style I don't place emphasis on this for [c]inema, its the composition and muted colours.

Our focus is drawn to the defocused end-of-street-shot. There's something lurking there? This is playing with repressed or symptomatic feelings. Paul makes no specific mention to this. If you're a student deconstructing this, what would you have said and do next, particularly as a videojournalist.

videojournalist story, because this form of categorisation would be crass. This was a reporter-camera shoot. However its worth thinking about this as an exercise and what you might have done.

This shot emphasis where the reportage team is. The end of the cold war heralded this shift in what could be defined as fast changing front lines in conflict. This is one such example. Close quarter fighting in which the reportage team are in as much risk as those with guns. This is cinematic. You're right in the action.

The same with this shot. Life imitates art imitates life. If I showed you this shot and said this was from Greenzone ( Dir Paul Greengrass)  you might say, "yeah and so?"

Fictional cinema has often stolen from factual cinema to look believable and the dominance of cinema at large means we become accustomed to shots that say something from fictional cinema, rather than factual. But show this to a class without the captions and see how a large proportion may tell you this is Greenzone.

If the cameraman was ten feet away from where the fighters it may not have produced the impact the camera man desired.

A metonymic shot if there ever was one. This shot above embodies all there is about war. The cameraman is at eye level. He's noticed the fear writ across the fighter's face; a blurred gun turret in the background, and that one fleeting gaze captures the moving image moment. 

Any photojournalist would be pleased with this shot. Again its compositional arrangement and blue background isolate the face. 





Four frames that I have chosen portray Wood's experiences as he reacts gun fire. This is not embedded journalism. This is the risk that this BBC team have taken to produce footage to verify the denials of what's going on in a region.

There's no grandstanding, looking for the perfect akimbo stance to deliver the stand-up. This shot places the reporter within the zone of peril. "We are in the thick of things here",  the cameraman is telling us, specifically referring to the reporter.

This shot pulls the focus onto the movement of the fighters but also draws attention to the cameraman moving at pace to catch up but also acting cautiously.

Journalism not for the meek. Independent verification. Please note, a construct could possess many cinematic effects and not classify as cinema ( whose cinema, what cinema??)

But there is an overall hacceity that comes to bear when watching something in which you suspend the gaze attributed to television for the sustained look - something you give over to darkened room cinema.

I can only allude tot this as it requires far more unpacking than I have spaced for, but as a general term it possesses the currency,  others have limited to personal, immediate, immersive and so on.

NB * Viewers - here I'm looking at those who would say they grew up on television as opposed to cinema

In my next post I use semiotics t show you how Sherlock Holmes faked his death in the BBC TV series

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